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‘I think one league at the end of the day is the answer’: Q&A with Hilary Knight

Knight was in Montreal as part of an all-star team for a Concordia University invitational

Shanna Martin

Hilary Knight made an appearance in Montreal before the New Year taking part in Concordia University’s Theresa Humes tournament. The Theresa Humes tournament is in its 49th year, and is likely the longest running women’s hockey tournament in the world.

A team pulled out at the last minute and Caroline Ouellette and Julie Chu, who both coach at Concordia, pulled a team together so there would still be four teams. That meant a team made up of several of the CWHL’s Canadiennes and other players, including Knight, took part.

In the game against Concordia University, Knight scored both goals in a 2-1 win. Afterwards, I had the chance to speak to her about her year and the future of the sport.

TIG: How hard is it to get up for the 4 Nations Cup and December series games when you don’t have much in between?

HK: The hardest thing about playing with your country is that you want to be fully prepared going in and I had a little bit of an injury, so I didn’t get as many practices or touches before I was able to play with some amazing teammates. If anything, I think it is a little bit more pressure and you’re nervous and you’re like ‘oh my gosh I don’t want to mess up a play’ because you have two other people out there on your line. Kendall Coyne and Brianna Decker do a great job and are great players so they make it easier to hop back in and find yourself.

TIG: Having these outreach events, playing against university teams, how important is it to grow the game not only to young girls but at a university level to show that there’s life after college hockey?

HK: It’s huge. If anything with these professional leagues, it gives a lot of people hope. Especially people who sign their young girls, their young daughters up, that there is a career path. If anything, it’s making the player pool even deeper and getting the college girls and university girls excited that they have a professional league to play in, whether it’s down in the States or up here. It’s an exciting time to be in hockey.

TIG: What do you think is the one thing that needs to grow the game to get mainstream attention all year round between Olympics?

HK: I think we need to combine into one league, to be honest. I miss playing our counterparts up here and it’s always a great competition level when you keep it high competition. But in addition to that, just getting more visibility and that means marketing dollars. I think what the Canadiens do up here is amazing for the girls’ program as well and it’s great to see an NHL team really take on that role. Hopefully we can have more of that across both sides of the border, but I think one league at the end of the day is the answer.

TIG: There’s a lot of animosity between the two leagues, not at a player level because you guys get along, but both leagues say they are for the players. Do you think at some point that needs to be put aside and grow the game for real?

HK: I think the best thing to grow the game is to combine forces and combine efforts. Right now we have two separate businesses going on and I can’t speak on either of those, but they have their reasons for not joining. But I think from a player standpoint, and if you ask anyone, as a player we want to play the best competition every night we can, as many times as we can. If we can manage that, I think in our hearts that’s what we feel is right and hopefully that can happen soon.

TIG: At an event like this, playing with Caroline Ouellette as opposed to against her and others that you played against in the CWHL, what’s it like to go from opponents to playing together?

HK: It’s amazing. You have the Canada-US rivalry and then when you kind of step away from that and you get to play with them instead of against them, you have a greater appreciation for other players. Not only did I know she was an amazing player, but to be able to step on the ice with her and know what she’s accomplished, not only in women’s hockey but hockey in general it’s a pretty special opportunity so I hope we have more of those opportunities. It would be great if I could come up here and play.